The Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association of Ghana (VEPEAG) was formed in 1997 and is Ghana’s oldest and widest spread representative group of horticulture exporters.
Currently VEPEAG claims some 500 members nationwide who are active in the industry and has established a marketing company to export as a single group. However the challenges facing its members and indeed all potential Ghanaian exporters of horticulture produce are becoming insurmountable for small scale farmers.
In spite of various Ghana Government backed initiatives from agencies such as EDAIF and EMQAP, mandatory international phyto-sanitary requirements and other regulatory conditions cannot be met by the average grower, primarily because of lack of access to modern growing methods and the appropriate required technology and teaching and training in their use, availability of high quality seeds and very poor post-harvest facilities from harvesting to delivery to the air carriers at Kotoka international Airport.
THE VEPEAG INITIATIVE
Under the leadership of VEPEAG’s President Joseph Tontoh, the VEPEAG Executive have looked at various alternatives to address these issues and have now taken the bold step to move away from the vagaries of open field horticulture and focus on the introduction into Ghana of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) greenhouse technology, which is becoming more and more significant in the global cultivation of fruit and vegetables.
As a pertinent example, the US Government is now actively encouraging its adoption by commercial growers in the USA and even sponsoring its introduction and teaching to schools and colleges around the country.
WHAT IS CEA?
CEA is the name given to crop cultivation using greenhouse technology to protect the crops at all stages from planting the seeds to harvesting the crops.
Ever since mankind developed from being hunter gatherers into farmers, the vagaries of rainfall
patterns from floods to droughts, infertile land, poor quality seeds and lack of post-harvest facilities have caused small scale and subsistence farmers to su.er o en almost to the point of collapse from the resulting shortages of their food supply.
For thousands of years farmers have sought remedies for overcoming these problems from praying to deities to experimenting with irrigation, fertilization and new seeds.
Ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans devised technology that would be exported as their empires expanded. Their agriculturists even began practicing CEA in some format for cucumber cultivation during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Eventually modern agriculture began to drastically alter these prevailing conditions as humanity developed all over the world.
HOW HAS IT DEVELOPED, ALTERED AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES AND CHANGED FARMING OPERATIONS?
CEA has been in use globally for generations; so much so that Greenhouse Technology is now
considered as the core part of precision farming.
However it was the introduction of drip irrigation about 50 years ago which gave a whole new
dimension to high-density crop cultivation on very small areas of land using low volumes of water in growing areas protected from the risks of insects, pests and the irregular changes in the local climate.
This led to life changing opportunities for the small scale growers and previously unimaginable
industries such as floriculture became a major source of employment and revenues for the
Success stories can be found in all parts of the world from the most sophisticated farmers in
countries such as the USA, Israel, Holland, Spain and Japan to farmers in rapidly developing
countries such as South Africa, Mexico, China, Turkey and India and even to the most basic
subsistence farmers in slower developing countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda in
Higher technology levels have now enabled the use of hydroponics (soilless cultivation) and even aquaponics linking fish farming with horticulture to ensure that food security and food safety can eventually be provided for all and the farmers can achieve a sustainable good standard of living with the exponential effects on the global and regional economy.
WHY IS IT NECESSARY FOR GHANA?
Unfortunately, Ghana’s farmers, like most of Sub-Saharan Africa, have been excluded from the
necessary training and education to learn about almost any form of modern agricultural technologies; therefore Current cultivation in Ghana is based on rain fed irrigation which is a major problem due to minimal rainfall.
Seeds are o en of poor quality and post-harvest practices are almost non-existent.
This results in seasonal crops of short shelf life produce with corresponding post-harvest losses that make it difficult for farmers to be profitable.
Pest infestation is rife, particularly white fly and thrips, and pesticides alone cannot solve the
Produce quality is so poor and disease ridden and high in toxic residual levels that it is regularly
rejected and now in many cases banned from the highly lucrative European markets and USA.
VEPEAG has recognized that for their members and all Ghana’s farmers to grow top quality produce the whole year round so as to become profitable and enjoy a good standard of living, it is fundamental that they have access to the technology upon which modern agricultural development is based and equally to have the accompanying inputs and know how to use them.
Failure to educate VEPEAG and Ghana’s existing and future farmers in all aspects of modern
commercial agriculture will condemn them to an ever decreasing level of profitability leading to a major reduction of active farmers with an exponential drop in food production levels.
In short, the damage to the national economy generally and the agriculture sector specifically will be irreparable.
THE WAY FORWARD
This state of affairs can only be avoided if the academic institutions are able to teach the farmers through theoretical explanation and practical demonstration, commercial projects are undertaken and the relevant agencies provide financial and facilitation support.
To achieve these ends, VEPEAG have entered into a strategic alliance with the University of Ghana through its Forest and Horticulture Crop Research Centre at Kade (Eastern Region) and Stevicksen Ventures Ltd, the ECOWAS distributors of EnviroDome Ventilation Greenhouse Systems, to establish an EnviroDome Centre of Excellence at Gomoa Budua a (Central Region).
The Centre is designed as a larger version of a similar Centre which was established at Kade at the end of 2013 and commissioned by Hon. Clement Humado, the then Minister of Food and
Agriculture. It has been highly successful since then and the first harvest was commemorated by H.E. President J.D. Mahama on his memorable visit in May 2014 during which he referred to the introduction of the EnviroDome technology as a revolution for Ghana’s agricultural development and pledged his Government’s full support and backing to achieving this goal.
Subsequently support was recently provided to VEPEAG and its collaborators by the Skills
Development Fund (COTVET) and the Centre is now under construction with completion expected before the end of 2015. When completed it will operate as a commercial demonstration farm as well as provide full residential teaching and training facilities offering 3 month courses to VEPEAG members as well as other interested students.
Similar courses are currently being provided by FOHCREC at the Kade EnviroDome Centre of
Excellence to 56 Agricultural Extension Officers from MOFA under the WAAPP World Bank Initiative.
A description of the courses to be provided, which include GLOBALGAP familiarization, accompanies this document together with other relevant explanatory documents and details of the various stakeholders involved in the VEPEAG Initiative.
LONG TERM POTENTIAL
The future for small scale farmers and their families such as VEPEAG’s members depends primarily on their continued ability to grow marketable produce at cost effective prices.
This can be achieved more efficiently and sustainably by introducing greenhouse systems to farmers in single or collaborative entities.
Based on the experiences of farmers throughout the Sub-Region and indeed in many developing countries globally, once sufficiently trained in their application and with the correct growing materials and seeds made available to them, the benefits to the farmers and their families can be life changing and as a consequence, the exponential benefits to the general economy of Ghana will be substantial.
REQUEST FOR SUPPORT FROM GIZ FOR THE VEPEAG INITIATIVE
The VEPEAG INITIATIVE has been devised to provide a long term strategy to develop a meaningful and sustainable program for the cultivation of suitable high quality, long shelf life horticultural produce by VEPEAG’s members and their compatriots to penetrate the export markets.
However this can only happen with the direct financial support from Ghana Government and
international aid agencies such as GIZ because local farmers do not have the capabilities to obtain capital from the local banking sector to establish teaching and training programs, nor do they have access to credit to acquire the technology and equipment needed once fully trained.
As part of this initiative, VEPEAG is currently collaborating with FOHCREC and Stevicksen Ventures Ltd and its operational subsidiaries, EnviroDome UG Ltd and EnviroFruits Ltd to develop a financing program with UT Bank Ltd.
It is anticipated that UT Bank will offer credit facilities to VEPEAG members once they complete the training course to acquire EnviroDome Ventilation Greenhouse systems for use on specially established horticultural estates to cultivate export produce.
Technical growing and marketing support will be provided to the VEPEAG growers by the
Capacity building finance is desperately needed by VEPEAG for the teaching and training of its
members as well as additional funds to acquire EnviroDome units and develop the horticultural
estates and through this presentation VEPEAG are formally requesting such financial support from GIZ.
The accompanying notes and documents will provide more detailed explanations about VEPEAG’s collaborators, the relevant technology and the export marketing program recently entered into by VEPEAG with EnviroFruits and Integrity International Cargo Ltd to support our request.
We hope that our application will be favorably considered and look forward to your support in
bringing our aspirations to reality.
Thank you for your kind attention.
President – VEPEAG